Are you cool or square?

SUNDAY, January 24, 2021 – 4:36 PM

It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got that Swing

For me some things are so cool that after they are done being “new and cutting edge” and fade into “old fashioned” they come back, get discovered by a whole new generation of musicians. I don’t know one serious musician of any age who is not awed by Ella Fitzgerald. By the time this music was also “over”, meaning no longer new, cool, earth-shattering, and by the late 60s rock music had pretty much become the only thing that young people listened to.

Fast forward to 2021, and you might be amazed to find out how many people who are once again discovering Ella and her “scat singing”, which is actually so hard to do that musicians just listen with wonder.

Are you cool or square?

Before I try to add something new or “retread” something, here is a question for you wannabee musicians: would you ever call someone “square” who think is “not cool”?

I was curious, because I tried to explain last week that “swing” music has to have a swing, meaning that any two eighth notes are uneven. The first is twice as long as the second, but the music is written evenly.

So we have two ways of interpreting steady eight notes. One is called “straight” rhythms, meaning you play what’s on the page, and the other is called “swing”,  meaning deliberately uneven.

That put me on the hunt for “square” (uptight, not loose, too formal) in contrast to “hip” (with it, up to date, informed about what is being said or done right now.) And that left me with a question: if straight rhythms are “square”, what is the best word for that in 2021?

It turns out that the word we usually use, “cool” – as opposed to “uncool” – has been around since around 1930. But it seems to now be almost as OK as “OK”. So I guess that nearly a century later, Ella is still “cool”.

4 thoughts on “Are you cool or square?”

  1. This sounded so fun! The performance (of recording) has so much liveliness and energetic passion. The scatting and swing were the glue that held this very lively recording together. And who doesn’t love swing, or scatting? This is great, amazing even. Would listen again.

  2. Ella is definitely cool!!! This music is uplifting. Makes you want to get up and dance.

    In answer to your inquiry: “And that left me with a question: if straight rhythms are “square”, what is the best word for that in 2021?” I don’t know if it’s the best word, how about unhip?

  3. I absolutely love this. It’s so upbeat and like you said I do think young people would love this. It’s so upbeat that it just gets you in a good mood and I love that.

  4. I don’t care what you call me, just beat me, 8 to the bar (with a dotted rythm… like trains wheels going over the tracks.. clack-clack, clack-clack, clack-clack, clack-clack. I think what’s happened is the traditional measures of “coolness” have become irrelevant. No longer do we rely on payola and FM stations, now we just eitehr stumble on it in a youtube binge, or Spotifiy, or Sirius, or whtaever. Ella will aways be cool, and Ray too, and all the others. That music will never die. Me? I’m half and half, half hip half square. There’s a time to be each.

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